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Faith, Joy, More Posts, Work

Changing The Landscape Of My Dreams

Life started out with great, big dreams…

When I was a teenager, I dreamt of being an anchor person for the Today Show. A small-town girl, I longed to live in New York City: a place full of nightlife, action and the endless possibility of being “discovered” and made instantly famous.

That dream came to a halt my freshman year in college when I worked at my college TV station. I found myself surrounded by cranky, stressed-out people who agonized to produce a newscast every night at six, only to have to do it again, and again, and again…a never ending production cycle that clearly left my colleagues burned out and bitter. That didn’t look like a fun life.

I switched my dreams from anchoring the Today show to editing one of the major lifestyle magazines I’d read on my childhood coffee table…maybe Women’s Day, or Family Circle, or Good Housekeeping, or Seventeen. That idea led me through the rest of college, and to a summer internship in New York City, where I found myself living my dream: I was in a big city; pursing something I thought would fulfill me; living a life beyond the confines of my small town…and I was shocked to discover, I was horribly, awfully lonely.

I was surrounded by a city of over 8 million people, and I knew no one; my summer roommates had exceptionally bad moral standards; and instead of feeling like I was constantly on the edge of being “discovered” I felt entirely unimportant, unvalued and unseen. Virtually no one made eye contact with me without a dirty look, for an entire summer. That wasn’t a fun life.

So I threw away those dreams, and embraced a new one…

With TV anchoring, living in New York, and working on a major magazine off the list…I decided to pursue quieter things like wilderness and exploration. I aligned my hopes and dreams with those of my boyfriend (now husband) who dreamt of exploring the Great American West.

We found ourselves living in Yosemite Valley for a summer that amazingly extended into three years…and then spent 19 more years in a town just outside the National Park. We owned a business, worked on our own terms (often odd hours, and really, all of the time), and again…we were living our dream.

Our company printed hundreds of thousands of prints and exhibitions for some of the best photographers of our time. Our prints were distributed in The White House, hung in The Smithsonian and many state capitals, and were regarded as being amongst the best in the world. It was a lifestyle that left us, and our staff, stretched thin. It was invigorating and exciting, and increasingly exhausting. In the end, it left us realizing that somehow the fun life we’d pursued had changed into something unrecognizable. We had to let go.

When your dreams fall apart, or aren’t what you imagined…It’s hard to let go.

When the relationships you imagined, turn out to be something altogether different than your heart’s desire…it’s hard to know how to continue.

When you imagine your life going a certain way, by a certain time, and you look up and are living the exact opposite life you envisioned…it’s hard not to despair.

It either makes you give up on dreaming, or it makes you change your idea of dreams.

And that’s what I’ve been working on, these past few years: Changing my concept of dreams. I found myself pondering things like:

What if life is a series of dreams, instead of one great, big, make-it-or-break-it dream?

What if we allow those dreams to be simple steps forward in a hopeful direction?

What if, instead of putting all of our hopes and dreams in the end result, we embrace each hope and inspiration, one at a time and treasure it like that first morning cup of coffee, cradled warmly in our hand?

Can we allow the destination to be something beyond our control?

Can we allow the dream to change along the way, without stamping “failure” on the experience when it doesn’t lead where we hoped it would?

What if my dreams weren’t about my own ambitions, but were focused on who I wanted to be, in my heart…how I wanted to live, in my attitude…how I showed love, in my actions?

What if dreams weren’t anchored in the hallmarks of success…fame, and money, and a big house with a new car…but in being encouragement to other people; offering hope, and truth, and light in a world that is increasingly troubled?

What if I laid down my expectations for life, and other people, and just said…enough already. I’m not okay, you’re not okay…let’s just have some coffee and hang out and laugh in this insanity that is life?

What if I truly allowed God to change my dreams into His dreams for my life, one decision at a time, and decided to be okay with my life being rewritten into something new?

I’ll tell you a few things that happen, when you begin to dream into life this way:

– God begins to rewrite your life for the better. You find yourself doing things you never expected to do, helping people you never envisioned, and feeling surprisingly fulfilled.

– Relationships evolve, becoming richer and deeper as life moves to a more meaningful level.

– The million details of daily life become more profound, as you become more aware of all God is weaving together in your life, and in lives around you, even in the brokenness (and often because of the brokenness).

– Your spirit moves more freely; more peacefully and more hopefully as you anchor your idea of success to simply living each day as best as you can.

– You find yourself really, truly beginning to embrace the life you have, by intentionally filling it with the things that matter.

– You let go of the end-result, and allow the current of life to shift and change your dreams into something new, yet once again.

Phillipians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Living In Tennessee, Work

Surprising Gifts That Came From Owning a Business

I used to say I didn’t have a single entrepreneurial bone in my body. I was brought into business ownership when I married Rich…a guy with extreme independence, unique talent and big dreams. I fought incapacitating anxiety as we bade our small-but-consistent paychecks goodbye to launch our first business.

I was 25 years old, starting a business with my (fairly) new husband, in a male-dominated industry, in a small California town where we essentially knew nobody. It was lonely, and scary, and I spent way too much time alone with my husband and three cats, creating websites for photographers using the early HTML builders that were available in the late 1990s.

We worked constantly, building websites and pursuing fine art photographic printmaking, steadily adding more and more well-known landscape photographers to our roster of clients. Within a year, we were moving the business out of our house, into a commercial space, hiring employees and taking out leases to buy expensive pieces of production equipment.

The risk, lack of certainty, and financial insecurity of early business ownership led me to Jesus pretty darned quickly. My reliance on God as my provider and counselor is the only thing that has kept my always-beckoning anxiety in check, every single day of my life ever since. It’s also the ONLY thing that gave me hope as our first business crumbled out of our hands in 2017.

As we closed down that business, I vowed I would never own another business. It was too uncertain…there was too much risk. We had taken the first half of our professional lives and devoted it to something that evaporated seemingly overnight.

I dreamt of having a job with a solid paycheck and benefits. A job where someone else could do the worrying about making payroll every two weeks, or buying the never-ending list of supplies a business requires. I wanted a job where I could just be an employee…and leave the tough decision making to someone else. So God led me to that job, and that’s what I’ve been pursing ever since. There is something amazing about not having to pay my own healthcare for the first time in 20 years…but working for someone else has shown me a few truths about myself, as well.

It turns out I have solid business instincts. After co-steering my business for 20 years, I instinctively know truths about business, stewarding employees and navigating challenging situations. When you live for two decades with professional challenges presenting themselves on a daily basis, you grow used to upheaval, reorganization and change. It turns out, not being fazed by this is actually a skill.

I’ve also recognized that dreaming up new ideas is a fundamental part of who I am now. A program or product isn’t working? People aren’t happy? We need to change something fundamental to the business? Let’s throw away, “How we’ve always done it,” and invent a new wheel. I’m discovering that NOT having a fear of change, and having a heart to tackle problems head-on, is a rare thing, indeed.

The last thing I told my husband I would NEVER do again, when we closed our business, was bookkeeping and payroll. It’s a never-ending job. If you leave it alone for a day or two, you are greeted by piles of work when you return. Imagine my surprise when the job God led me to in Nashville was the Accounting and HR manager of a Christian nonprofit, where I do bookkeeping and payroll. The amazing thing is that He’s given me a heart to ENJOY reworking and updating the ministry’s books to meet its growing needs. If you knew how truly burned out I was after closing our business, you would see that’s nothing short of a miracle.

I’ve discovered that being an employee for the first time in 20 years is both liberating and frustrating. In our business, my husband and I would often make large decisions together, then we would quickly implement those changes. In a nonprofit, you can’t make decisions independently… it just doesn’t work (plus, you would upset a lot of people). Learning to collaborate in a new way has been both challenging and rewarding, as I see my ideas refined by others…and vice versa.

The essential truth I’m learning from all of this is that each life experience truly does prepare you for the next. Life’s persistent details add up into new character traits like steadfastness, patience, self-control and trust in God…if you approach them with a heart ready to learn, grow, get broken and heal. It’s a cycle that builds something tough and strong…and though my business no longer exists after 20 years, I’m enjoying the fruit of it in new ways, as I pursue an entirely new path with the skills it gave me.

Faith, Mom Life, Work

How Do You Eat An Elephant?

After 19 years of business ownership, homeschooling two kids, and completely rewriting my life over the past year, I am intimately familiar with being overwhelmed. I know what it’s like to see a full slate of work ahead of me, and realize the only way to get it done, is for me to physically do it. Since I find myself in this situation frequently, I have a great question to pose for my next blog post…and that is:

How do you eat an elephant?

An elephant is an overwhelming circumstance or situation. It’s a series of fires that have begun in your life and orchestrated themselves to simultaneously scorch multiples aspects, often at the same time. It’s when you find yourself completely overwhelmed at your life situation, and at the realization that there is no easy way out…and no matter what path you find to walk along, it’s going to be a long haul.

It’s when my husband was diagnosed with cancer at age 37, when we thought he just had a hernia.

It’s when my son was unexpectedly born with cleft lip and palate…a birth defect that is very fixable, but requires a childhood of surgeries and interventions.

It’s when I found myself driving down our mountain road, knowing that the end of our business was near, with no clear path how to sell it.

It’s when I realized that the only things standing between our life in California and the new life God was calling us to in Tennessee was selling two houses, closing down a business, packing up the contents of the houses, finding a new house in Tennessee, loading our moving trailer, and then actually physically moving our family across the nation…Any one of those things should take several months to accomplish, and they all had to happened at the exact same time.

In the last year or two of our business, I had the same disturbing dream, over and over again. Initially, it caused me great anxiety each time it emerged in my sleep…but by the tenth or eleventh time I had the dream, I had grown so used to it, I’d think, “Oh it’s my stupid anxiety dream again,” even while I slept. The dream had lost its power.

I think there is something similar to navigating the elephants in life. At a certain point, you stop thinking “OH NO! AN ELEPHANT!!!” and instead think, “Ok…there’s the next elephant…here we go, God…”

I’m several elephants into my adult life, and have come up with this step-by-step elephant-eating plan for anyone who finds themselves in similar overwhelming circumstances:

Step One: Size up the elephant. Take a good look at the circumstances and the complete and utter chaos you have found yourself in. It’s nuts, isn’t it? I mean really…who could do well navigating a challenge like THIS one? Allow yourself the freak out moments, because it will lead you to the next step:

Step Two: Acknowledge you can’t eat the elephant alone. It’s going to take other people to help you…and most importantly, it’s going to take God’s help and direction. Other people may tell you to eat the tail first; or the ears…but then you will find God putting your heart into conquering another aspect. Listen to God’s leading. When we moved to Tennessee, I had competing voices in my head (and in my life) telling me to prepare our house to move; do the final paperwork for our business; make sure our children were faring as well as possible, given the chaos; look for a house in Tennessee…the only way I was able to successfully move from point A (California) to point B (Tennessee) was to follow God’s steady voice, one step at a time. This leads me to the next concept:

Step Three: Take one step at a time, and one day at a time. Most of my days are written for me before I even wake up. I know when my kids need to go to school, when I need to go to work; what waits for me at work, and I also know the overwhelming number of things that must fit in alongside these daily realities. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I ask myself, “What is the very next step I need to take?” And then I do that step. It’s amazing how doing this one thing, over and over again each day, truly does move life’s mountains.

Step Four: Don’t look too far ahead. When you are in an overwhelming circumstance, what you MOST want to know is when it will be over…when you will have some semblance of control over your life again, and can go back to worrying about what you’ll make for dinner, instead of how to pay for the food. When I find myself worrying about the future, or wanting the five or ten-year plan, I take stock of my life at that exact moment: If I am fed, in a warm house, and have clothing on…and so do my children…honestly, everything else is a bonus. The Lord’s prayer doesn’t say, “Give us this day our next ten years’ worth of bread,” but simply “daily bread.” And sometimes remembering His faithfulness with daily bread makes it easier to trust He will continue to provide it as we live out the years ahead.

Step Five: Don’t be afraid of hard work. There was a point in time when I would shy away from a project because it seemed too overwhelming. After years of business ownership, and especially after navigating my past year, I know the power of diligently accomplishing one thing at a time, one day at a time…you can do impossible things by simply rolling up your sleeves, and actually doing the work. Stop thinking about how overwhelming it is…and just DO THE WORK.

Step Six: Don’t fear exhaustion. Exhaustion comes from hard work and intense living. At some point, you will have time to sleep again. If you become too focused on how tired you are, it robs the energy you need to actually navigate through your situation. Accept that exhaustion is a part of life sometimes…and you will survive it.

Still, even with all of this advice, sometimes you just get sick of the elephant. You want it to go away, or disappear, or be replaced by something delicious and decadent and not have to eat more of the STUPID STINKY ELEPHANT…MAKE THE ELEPHANT GO AWAY!!!

That’s when you do the most important thing:

Take a bit of time to take care of yourself. Sleep in. Do something fun, just for the sake of having fun. Go for a walk. Look at the stars. Eat a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Allow yourself time to dream…sometimes the best way to eat an elephant is to allow yourself time to stop looking at it for awhile, and focus on things that give you joy. It reminds you that eventually the elephant will go away…this too shall pass..and all of that elephant wrestling will leave you stronger, wiser and able to enjoy the sweet things of life even more.

Married Life, Mom Life, Work

What’s Harder? Homeschooling or Working Full Time?

So, it turns out that when you work a full time job AND have a family AND have a 40 minute commute each way, you end up with a lot less time for things like blog writing…

Despite the busyness and the packed schedule, my ideas keep flowing…so I will continue to write this blog, even though a brand new season of The Bachelorette (my guilty pleasure) is calling my name.

Yes, I will write… And I will tell you about this new chapter of life called “Life As a Full-Time Working Mom”. This chapter was written into my story following many other chapters of motherhood including:

Life as a mostly stay-at-home mom
Life as a business owner mom
Life as a mom of little tiny kids
Life as a mom of school aged kids
Life as a mom with a very sick spouse
Life as a mom who GETS PREGNANT AGAIN AT 40!
Life as a homeschooling, working mom with a newborn…

So, at this point, I figure that God wants me to have the perspective of what it is like to be many types of American moms, so I can fully relate to any mother I meet. Therefore, for this chapter of my life, I am working full time.

I am beginning a series where I answer various questions, and the first one is: Is it easier to be a full-time working mom, or a homeschooling mom?

That’s quite a question to start out with, isn’t it?

I am six months into being a full-time working mom, and it is both harder AND easier.

This morning as I drove off to work in my quiet car and listened to a podcast that had nothing to do with parenthood, while sipping my hot coffee ALL BY MYSELF, it felt like being a working mom was VERY EASY and VERY QUIET. Hot coffee and quiet have been nearly impossible to come by for the past 14+ years, and now, for 40 minutes to AND from work, I have both.

Over the past several months I’ve had a very heavy workload at work, learning the nuances of nonprofit bookkeeping, the culture of a new workplace, the names and personalities of dozens of wonderful people I’d never seen before, but who now fill my daily life…it has been very, very intense.

But it’s not anywhere near as intense as homeschooling two kids while running a small business. Or closing down a business and moving across the country with three kids, two cats and two fish…

At work, I am able to complete a task from beginning to end, several times each day. If someone interrupts me, they are extremely polite as they ask for my attention. I am able to delve deeply into troubleshooting many issues, and actually come to conclusions…unlike most of parenthood, which changes just as soon as you feel like you’re getting the hang of it…

So, the day to day life…it’s easier in many ways as a full-time working mom.

Here’s what’s hard:

  • Trying figure out a clothing style that doesn’t look completely like mom fashion, when you’ve been living in yoga pants for the past decade…or mountain fashion, when you’ve been living in the mountains for 20+ years.
  • When to get to the dry cleaner, and the doctor and the dentist…why does everyone keep 9 to 5 hours, when the rest of the world needs to work, too?
  • Sleep is also hard…if I stay up too late watching the rose ceremony on The Bachelorette, I still have to wake up to get to work on time the next morning, instead of letting me and the kids sleep in until we are ready to rise and greet the day.

But you know what is hardest? Missing my kids. Missing being there when they get home from school. Missing seeing my four year old make the day-to-day discoveries of that magical age. Having to catch up my kids’ days at the end of the day, instead of while they are going through it…that’s hard for me. My kids are my favorite people in the world, and it’s hard to have time with them limited by work…though I truly feel God has called me to this exact job and this exact point in time…

So I am thankful. Thankful for the contrast, and that I have spent nearly all of the past 14 years deep in the trenches of motherhood, living every single day alongside my children.

Thankful that Rich gets to be with our kids in a new way, spending loads of time with them as he lives out life being the official daily parent-on-duty.

Thankful for God’s palpable presence and direction in this chapter, just as He gave it in the last one.

And thankful for this new perspective on what it’s like to live life as a working mom.

Seeing all of the full-time working moms who now fill my life has convinced me of two things:

  1. They love their kids fiercely and well; and
  2. They are mentally strong, organized and admirable as they try to live out God’s call to steward their life at home AND in the workplace.

No one works as hard as working moms…except every other kind of mom. Motherhood is a lot of work, no matter how you live it out. And whether I’m home full time, or at work…being a mom is the best job I’ll ever have.

Living In Tennessee, Work

My Not-So-Stinky Commute

Many events stop traffic on my morning commute: Crossing guards in the school zone; Parents dropping off their kids; An occasional accident…But few things have been more memorable than the day a skunk stopped traffic on the corner of Old Fort and Veterans Parkways.

I was sitting patiently at the intersection, munching on my Cheerios and waiting for the impossibly long light to turn green. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a black-and-white animal, ambling down the road, completely oblivious to the lines of traffic directly in front of it. I had been waiting at the light for a good 30 seconds, and as I anticipated the light turning green, the skunk decided it was a fine time to prance in front of the lines of stopped traffic.

What do you do, when a skunk walks in front of you, and you are driving the lead car in a long line of traffic? Do you accelerate into it, hold your breath, and hope he decides not to spray you? Or do you sit and watch patiently, knowing that the cars behind you will begin laying into their horns with each passing second?

I glanced at the driver next to me, who was leaning over his steering wheel, staring at the road in disbelief, a smirk of a smile in the corner of his mouth. I caught his eye, wrinkled my eyebrows as if to say, “What do we do?” And he chuckled and shrugged his shoulders.

So we sat. And we watched the skunk make his merry way across the six lanes of traffic, back into the intersection, into oncoming traffic (oh no, oh no, oh no!!!!) and miraculously into a neighboring yard.

The skunk survived. The light turned green (amazingly, it didn’t turn green while we were watching the skunk…I told you it was a long light)…and we continued on to work.

That intersection has become one of my morning favorites…stopped at that light, I find myself next to business people, young moms, truck drivers, and other random characters, all a bit groggy, slurping their coffee and crunching on random breakfast bits. It’s an odd camaraderie; a place of daily life; and sometimes, like that morning, a place of unexpected grace…for the skunk, and for us.

Faith, More Posts, Work

My Next Big Assignment…

The rooms were bursting with donations for the thrift store. The food pantry’s shelves stretched in long lines: a bounty of canned goods, foods, fresh meats and vegetables, diapers and toiletries. People sat, waiting to speak to staff members to discuss their needs. Some wore looks of despair; Others had a sense of calm, knowing they had come to a place that would help.

I walked through the operation, seeing more and more bounty; more and more good; more and more tangible, practical THINGS people needed to live their lives, and it was truly like seeing a storehouse of God. It seemed never ending; ever expanding; and a place full of true, tangible hope…

I think it would have looked different to me, two years ago. Two years ago, need wasn’t fresh in my mind. I had a successful business, and money to pay my bills at home and at work. Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine being in Tennessee, much less looking for a full time job working for someone else.

But that day, on that tour, knowing the state of my pantry at home, compared to the grocery-store-like bounty of the food pantry, I saw personal, tangible gifts from God, ready to be given to the community. I had the sense that I was standing on hallowed ground, and I wanted to be a part of it. It nearly made me cry.

So, I accepted their temporary position and began working in the accounting department, processing donations. It was supposed to be a 1-2 month position, so I continued to look for another job.

A week after I started, I was offered another job in accounts payable at a very large corporation. It was full time, with benefits, and I accepted the position because it seemed like the logical and wise thing to do…but my heart wanted to stay at the ministry.

I was supposed to start the new job on January 8. The paperwork was submitted, the drug test taken (successfully!). Then, on my last day of work at the ministry, my supervisor gave her 2-week notice. She had found another job…and I was offered her position. Of course, I said yes.

That’s how I found my new job as an Accounting and Human Resources manager. It came from a temporary position, through a temp agency who just happened to have a non-profit Christian ministry come on board the day after I applied for a different position with them. The temp agency thought the ministry might be a better match than the original position, for some reason…

My new responsibilities closely resemble many of the jobs I used to do at our small business. And I’m beginning to see a new type of fruit from the struggles of our last 18 months. If we had to close our business, downsize our lives, move across the country, and go through everything else, to put my heart in the right place for this particular assignment…then…Thy will be done…

After 19 years, I felt like I was stagnating in our business, and that I hadn’t learned anything new in a long time. It turns out, I was wrong.

Three years ago, we began working with an online ordering system with a back end that closely mirrors the back end of the ministry’s online donation portal. Last year I figured out how to import everything in that portal into Quickbooks, and I can now give that knowledge to the ministry.

All of the expansive and exhausting work of 2017: selling our brands, and refining our books to present them to the buyer; the job of closing down our corporation, and the huge amount of information and precision that required…it all provided a greater level of knowledge and accountability in my bookkeeping, and a deeper understanding of accounting and QuickBooks, and that is exactly what I needed to take on this new position.

I never wanted to be a bookkeeper. I didn’t go to school for it, and have no formal training in it. But the last thing I did before Christmas break was write a check for someone’s rent. My work helped someone have a home for Christmas this year.

Though I’ve been keeping the books of my small business since 1998, I never realized bookkeeping could fundamentally change someone’s life until I cut that single check.

So I’m happy to embrace this next assignment, knowing it’s not really about me, anyway…

Matthew 25:35-40 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Faith, Married Life, Mom Life, Work

Searching For The Perfect Plan

After trying many planners, this is my favorite daily planner for homeschooling…and they also make a regular daily planner, as well.

Today I was supposed to go to work. I navigated the morning obstacle course of making lunch; feeding my little boy; getting dressed; and finally settled into the car with a fresh podcast loaded onto my phone…only to discover that work was cancelled for the day.

My plans changed.

Again.

No matter how much this last year has taught me, it still unsettles me when plans change. Especially when most days include unexpected diversions and disruptions.

The concept of “planning my day” became part of my daily vernacular in college, when I was introduced to my first “daily planner.” Ohio University issued official spiral-bound planners, which could be purchased at College Bookstore for a few dollars. Tests, quizzes, homework assignments and club meetings quickly filled in the pages of my life, and within a few months, I found myself living by this book. If something was written down in it, it happened…if not, it would be forgotten.

College was marvelously and fantastically predictable. Syllabuses were issued; books were studied; tests were taken…and I eventually received my diploma.

This standard protocol did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the realities of my adult life.

Immediately after I finished college, Rich and I took a six week road trip, with no plans other than to “go explore out west.” We loaded up his 1999 Nissan Sentra with food, a tent and clothing…space was so tight, I didn’t even pack a hair dryer. We spent four of those weeks in New Mexico and Utah, exploring the national parks, drinking Snapple and searching for any type of music on the radio…we were in the middle of nowhere…there were no iPods or Smart Phones in the 1990s…

I went from a completely planned life in college, where I could fully manage my time as I saw fit…to sleeping in a tent with absolutely nothing to do other than follow our whims.

It was tremendously unsettling, and a great introduction to the unpredictable life that was to come…

– First, business ownership (always working, even if we weren’t always at work).

– Then, having children (always a parent, even if you should be sleeping but someone randomly throws up / has a bad dream / heard a noise).

– Then, homeschooling (making plans, but having to be ever-flexible to your child’s needs for that day…times three, when you have three children).

– And now…becoming a working mom. Full time. As in…I am leaving the house every morning at the same time, and coming home and feeding my family…packing lunches, and doing it all over again the next day, five days in a row.

I find myself wanting to plan my life, much like when I was in college…making plans for meals, lunches, outings and dates with my spouse and kids…

But last week, I planned to go out on a date with Rich, only to be texted that my son threw up, just as we sat down for dinner. With so many disrupted plans, I am finding myself resentful of planning. I can’t live my life by my plans, because plans change. People get sick. Appointments are missed. Life is tiring, and sometimes I just want to sleep, sleep, sleep and forget ALL OF THE PLANS.

The past year has taught me that planning is a luxury. To meal plan for the week or month, you need to have money to buy all of your groceries ahead of time. To make plans for coffee with a friend, you must be able to predict that you will be able to leave your family at the allotted time, and actually meet her. To plan for outings or trips, you must be able to reasonably predict that you will have the time, money and energy to actually deliver on the plans.

So, when people say they live by their plans or their calendar, I think…you are so lucky. You are so blessed that your life is predictable, and has a steady rhythm. Sometimes people don’t live by plans because they can’t catch a break to actually make them. There are chapters in life like that, it seems…and sometimes it inadvertantly becomes a way of life…

Still, I try…

Because planning gives me the illusion of control over my life. A well-laid plan makes me feel like all the stuff of life will eventually be accomplished, and this gives me peace.

So, I will continue to plan our meals, search for good routines, look for slots of time when I can connect with each family member…and all the while, try to figure out how to have peace when the plans fall apart. I’ll try to live life working towards a plan (not berating myself if the plans are broken…again…)

I’m also realizing that it’s okay for the plan to be having NO PLANS…some chapters call for full immersion in the moment…afterall: “The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

You can plan your day, your month, your life, and in the end…it’s really up to God how it all works out.

Work was cancelled today, for example, but I had the time to write this post…

His plan was better than mine. It always is.

More Posts, Work

The Insanity Of Finding a Job In the 21st Century

It’s been 23 years since the last time I applied for a job. Back then, you filled out a paper application with a pen, neatly writing your name, home phone and address, along with all of the other information they required. Penmanship mattered…if the employer couldn’t read your phone number, you may never hear from them. Resumes were printed carefully on a laser printer at Kinko’s (not the dot-matrix printer most people had at home) on bonded resume paper, then mailed in a matching envelope.

Weeks would go by, without knowing if the person received the application, or what may be going on with it. I had my mom check our home answering machine constantly, and wondered if and when I might be called for a job interview, or an internship.

I guess this proves my age, because 23 years later, finding a job is a completely different animal. What I have discovered during my last month of job searching is that it’s almost completely automated, and it all happens online…Especially if you have a very limited network, or are just starting out somewhere, like I am. Though I am “mid career,” most of my network is in California, not Tennessee. This presents a bit of a challenge…

For the past several weeks, my iPhone has been constantly loading jobs from Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com. Besides the steady stream of new jobs, these sites have also been helpful to discover what businesses are located nearby. Here in Nashville, there are 150+ jobs being posted every day, just in our suburb alone. Most of these sites let you apply directly through them…you upload your resume once; add a cover letter if you’d like…then submit your job application. That’s it.

Really, truly…that’s it.

Your resume goes into a deep black void of space, and it’s rare to hear back from anyone, other than the automated email engine that lets you know your application was received. It’s all a bit soul-less.

I’ve also joined several job boards on Facebook…Nashville Jobs, Murfreesboro Jobs, Nashville Only Jobs, Murfreesboro Jobs Now…they all feature recruiters who…you guessed it! Post jobs! Most are for forklift operators; packaging clerks and jobs at the nearby Amazon distribution center…not exactly what I’m looking for, but it’s impressive how many jobs there ARE here, for people willing to do the work.

Job FairEvery once in awhile, I will see a posting for a Job Fair. One came up recently where they were hiring for bookkeeping and H/R, and since I have experience in both, I figured I’d drive up to Nashville and actually physically put my resume in someone’s hands and smile at their face…kind of like in the 1990s.

A “Job Fair” as it turns out, is quite an experience. As I sat in a room of 30+ individuals from very diverse backgrounds, I thought to myself…this is the pool of applicants I am competing with, every single time I submit a resume on indeed. Here they are! We are all in the black void of submitted resumes together! 

One by one, over the course of the next three hours, I watched them be pulled for individual interviews, as the remaining people snacked on Cokes and cookies. We went from a crowd of people sitting with perfect posture, to everyone slouching on their Smart Phones, or chatting with their nearby neighbor. The guy next to me, for example, had three kids close to my children’s ages, worked in staffing for the past five years, and was native to Nashville…we had a lot of time to talk.

I eventually was called in for two separate interviews, and it felt good to share my thoughts; my ideas on work ethic; and my skills with an ACTUAL PERSON, instead of just listing them on my LinkedIn profile and hoping for the best.

Looking for a job in 2017 is a highly automated process. The good part of that is that employers have a large pool of applicants to choose from. The bad part is…it removes the personal interaction of actually meeting applicants…seeing them face-to-face, and discerning if their smile is genuine; if the place is peaceful; if the manager’s face is relaxed, or stretched tight with stress.

Still, it’s the 21st century, and remembering the “good ol’ days” won’t do much good, when it comes to actually landing a job. Though the majority of my job submissions have gone unanswered, I’ve had several promising interviews lately, as well as job offers. I’m looking forward to writing a post about what it’s like to work for someone else, after 19 years of self employment…

So much to learn, in this Life By Susan.

Work

How To Be a Good Customer This Christmas Season (And Always)

There are articles everywhere about how to offer excellent customer service; the customer is always right; customers need to feel listened to, valued and validated. Those are all valid thoughts…but what you don’t see often is an article on how to be a good customer. Most people don’t work in customer service, but we are ALL customers. Don’t you think it’s worth some time to learn how to be a pleasant one?  After spending my entire working career providing customer service in some way, shape or form, I offer you this list for your consideration, as we embark on the busiest shopping days of the year:

1. If there is a line, don’t try to push yourself to the front of it. Similarly, clearing your throat, complaining to fellow line dwellers and other “tisking” sounds make the line waiting even more unpleasant for everyone. The person at the cashier’s stand KNOWS her line is long, and she is working hard to work through it as fast as possible, while doing a good job. Do you want her to give you her full attention once she gets to you? Be patient, and wait for it.

2. Have your credit card and ID ready when you get to the front of the line. It makes life go more quickly for everyone…no one likes to watch the person in front of them scrounging through their purse for these details, when you had the ENTIRE TIME IN LINE to prepare for the actual transaction.

3. If you are emailing customer service, talk to them as if you were talking face to face. Don’t write mean emails, impressing yourself with your use of the biggest, most offensive words your command of the English language can muster. There is nothing like receiving a TRULY AWFUL and MEAN email from a customer, then calling them on the phone to discuss their issue. It’s amazing how quickly they backpedal from being a mean bulldog of a customer, to being reasonable (usually). Remember: Most customer service people are there to help you.

4. If you have a legitimate concern with the product or service, don’t take it out on the customer service rep. Personal attacks and swearing are never okay. They make you sound mean and irrational…and if you are mean, the rep is much less likely to go to bat for you with their company.

5. The old adage, “sugar goes down better than salt” applies to dealing with customer service agents, as well. Be kind, polite and friendly as you present your needs to the rep. Chances are, your smiling face is one of the first they’ve seen all day. Being kind will not only make the interaction more pleasant, but it will create a comraderie between you and the rep that may work in your favor.

6. Stop demanding things for free. Seriously. Free isn’t free. It’s costing someone money, and ultimately will result in prices being raised for everyone. If there is a legitimate error, then that’s one thing…but demanding another set of free ANYTHING just because your shipment came a day later than expected is unreasonable.

7. Don’t use your negative emotions to manipulate the situation. It’s OK to express your frustration and displeasure verbally in a polite way…but expressing it in a way that is like a parent scolding a child is really quite hostile. Choose to have a kind and respectful demeanor.

8. If you aren’t satisfied with a product or service, contact the company BEFORE you rant on social media. Give them ample time to reply. Chance are, if you are having a problem, there are others who are calling them, too….which means it takes time to get back to you. Similarly, be careful what you say on social media. You might have been dissatisfied with something, but negative reviews stay forever. Do you really want to do that to someone’s livelihood? How would you feel if someone did that to you, based on your job performance during the toughest time of the year?

9. Order earlier than you think you need to, and don’t expect every company to deliver your goods as fast as Amazon does. Some products are hand made, or require specific materials that can run out during busy seasons…be patient, and place your order early, so if it takes longer than you expected, you aren’t irritated.

10. If a customer service rep is rude or unpleasant, ask to speak to the manager. They need to know if someone is not doing their job well, so they can make corrections accordingly. If the manager isn’t available, get their email address, so you can let them know later. Do the same thing, if you receive excellent service…bosses need all of the encouragement they can find, and the best kind comes from happy customers like you.

All this can be summed up in…be nice…do unto others as you would have them do unto you…and have yourself a merry little Christmas shopping season.

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